Since my visit to Catalonia last August, I have been working quite a bit, if not entirely steadily, on my Spanish, and also having a go at learning some Catalan.
I will shortly be going out there again for another visit, so it will be a good opportunity to assess how much I’ve learned in the past 14 months. My feeling is that it will turn out to be quite a lot, though there’s still much more to learn of both languages.
When I first started trying to learn Spanish, just over 20 years ago, it was from a book entitled (rather optimistically) Spanish in Three Months. Suffice it to say that it took me somewhat more than 3 months to get through the book – in fact, I didn’t get round to systematically working through all the chapters until some time after my last visit to Spain. I don’t suppose many people would buy a book called Spanish in Twenty Years and, to be fair, I don’t think the author or publishers can be blamed for the amount of time it took me to finish the book. In fact, I’ve used quite a few different resources in my quest to learn Spanish and in many respects this book is probably one of my favourites (though I think that any study of something as complex as a language really needs to make use of multiple sources of information).
After getting back from Catalonia last year, I initially decided that I would concentrate on improving my Spanish for several months, if not years, before taking more than a cursory look at Catalan, but I quickly acquired several Catalan books so that I’d be prepared when the time came. One of these was Catalan in Three Months, a sister to my first Spanish book. Several times over the last year I have dipped into this book but about a month ago I decided to systematically work through it (tackling the exercises and writing down vocabulary, etc.) and this time I was able to reach the end within about a fortnight. Admittedly, it’s a slightly shorter book than the other one (or at least breaks its material into fewer chapters) and I was going at a slightly too fast pace in order to get a broad overview of the language, so I haven’t fully assimilated a lot of the grammar or vocabulary (though the same can be said of Spanish, which I’ve been working at for a lot longer).
The fact that I already knew a reasonable amount of Spanish also helped me to work through the Catalan book much more quickly as, while there are many significant differences between the two languages, there is also a lot of overlap so I had a big headstart in terms of getting to grips with the basic nuts and bolts of the language. Having a reasonable, if rather rusty, command of French helped quite a bit too, since Catalan falls somewhere between French and Spanish linguistically as well as geographically.
As I was approaching the end of Catalan in Three Months, I had a look round to see what other Catalan resources were available and I came across one in the Dummies series of books that I’ve previously found useful for getting a handle on things ranging from knitting to quantum mechanics. The twist here was that the book was written in Spanish, and there doesn’t seem to be an English version available. Still, I reasoned that this might be quite a good way of consolidating my grasp on Spanish as well as learning a bit more Catalan (and, significantly, some more about the culture, which was rather lacking in the other book), so I purchased myself an e-book version of Catalán Para Dummies and have gradually been working my way through it.
Amongst the things I’ve learned from studying this book are the following two gems that I wanted to make a note of:
Firstly, the Catalan word for a pestle (as in pestle & mortar) is, apparently, la mà de morter, which means “the hand of the mortar”. Apart from being quite poetic, I find this useful because I’ve always had trouble remembering which one is the pestle and which one is the mortar. Somehow I find the idea of thinking of the pestle as the hand of the mortar seems to make it easier to remember that it is the one shaped roughly like a small club (or perhaps an arm with a fist on the end of it), while the mortar is the bowl shaped bit. Incidentally, I gather that the Spanish is similar (el mortero for mortar and la mano for pestle, although both Spanish and Catalan seem to have at least one other word – el pilón / el piló respectively – for the latter).
Secondly, there is a lovely Catalan idiom – fer dissabte (literally, “to make/do Saturday”) – which essentially refers to pottering round the house, doing cleaning and such other tasks as are often done on Saturdays but may equally be done at other times when you’re at home rather than out at work. Another source I found (also in Spanish – I’ve not yet managed to track down any in English) to explain this phrase seems to suggest that it’s more about an intensive cleaning session rather than pottering around. In either case, it’s based around the home and not necessarily confined to Saturday. A literal translation into Spanish would be hacer sábado but this would, apparently, make as much sense as “to do Saturday” in English, so it is a Catalan-only idiom (but it joins the likes of the German word ausschlafen – literally “to sleep out” but meaning to sleep until you wake up naturally, rather than using an alarm – on my list of words or phrases that we really ought to adopt into English).